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Ukraine says it controls Crimean airports

By Ivan Sekretarev

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Feb. 28 2014 8:22 a.m. MST

Unidentified gunmen block the road toward the military airport at the Black Sea port of Sevastopol in Crimea, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 28, 2014, as local residents are seen, in foreground. Russian troops took control of the two main airports in the strategic peninsula of Crimea, Ukraine's interior minister charged Friday, as the country asked the U.N. Security Council to intervene in the escalating conflict. Russian state media said Russian forces in Crimea denied involvement. No violence was reported at the civilian airport in Crimea's capital of Simferopol or at the military airport in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, also part of Crimea. At the Simferopol airport, a man claiming to speak for the camouflage-clad forces patrolling the airport described them as Crimean militiamen.

Ivan Sekretarev, Associated Press

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SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine — A top Ukrainian security official says two airports in Crimea are under Ukrainian control despite attempts by gunmen to "seize" them.

Ukraine's Interior Minister earlier Friday said Russian navy troops were blocking access to the airports in Simferopol and Sevastopol, describing it as a "military invasion and occupation."

But Ukraine's Security Council Chief Andriy Parubiy insisted later Friday that the airports were still under Ukrainian control, according to the Interfax news agency.

Parubiy said the gunmen had set up checkpoints outside the airports. "But de-facto the airports are controlled by the law enforcement bodies of Ukraine."

Ukraine's State Border Guard Service said about 30 Russian paratroopers from the 810th brigade of Russia's Black Sea Fleet had taken up position outside the Ukrainian Coast Guard base in the Sevastopol area. It said the paratroopers said they were there to prevent any weapons at the base from being seized by extremists.

Russia's defense ministry had no comment.

Any Russian military incursion in Crimea would dramatically raise the stakes in Ukraine's conflict, which saw the pro-Russian president flee last weekend after three months of anti-government protests. Moscow has vowed to protect Russian-speaking Ukrainians in Crimea, where it has a major naval base, and Ukraine and the West have warned Russia to stay away.

"I can only describe this as a military invasion and occupation," Ukraine's new interior minister, Arsen Avakov, wrote in a Facebook post Friday.

Avakov said the airports were controlled by Russian navy troops. Associated Press journalists approaching the Sevastopol airport found the road leading up to it blocked by two military trucks and a handful of gunmen wearing camouflage uniforms and carrying assault rifles.

A car with Russian military plates was stopped at the road block. A man wearing a military uniform with a Russian flag on his sleeve got out of the car and was allowed to enter on foot after a brief discussion with the gunmen.

At the airport serving Simferopol, commercial flights were landing and taking off despite the armed men.

In Kiev, Ukraine's parliament adopted a resolution demanding that Russia halt steps it says are aimed against Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and called for a U.N. Security Council meeting on the crisis.

The Russian foreign and defense ministries had no comment. Russia's state RIA Novosti and Interfax cited an unnamed official from the Russian Black Sea Fleet denying involvement, saying Russian servicemen stationed in Crimea have not moved into the airports and denying that the Russian military was in control there.

The Kremlin, in a statement published late Thursday, said President Vladimir Putin had instructed the government to "maintain contacts with the counterparts in Kiev in what concerns trade and economic ties between Russia and Ukraine."

Putin also asked the government to "hold consultations with foreign partners including the (International Monetary Fund) and the G8 nations to provide financial aid to Ukraine."

At the airport in Simferopol, dozens of armed men in military uniforms without markings were patrolling with assault rifles Friday morning. They didn't stop or search people leaving or entering the airport, and refused to talk to journalists.

One man who identified himself only as Vladimir said they were part of the Crimean People's Brigade, which he described as a self-defense unit ensuring that no "radicals and fascists" arrive from other parts of Ukraine.

The airport seizures came a day after masked gunmen with rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles seized the parliament and government offices in Simferopol and raised the Russian flag. Ukrainian police cordoned off the area but didn't confront the gunmen.

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